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How Preparation Predicts Teaching Performance Assessment Results in California

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Ensuring that teaching candidates are well prepared to enter the classroom is a critical mission for teacher preparation programs and state agencies that approve programs and set teacher licensure standards. Teaching performance assessments (TPAs) can be used to assess the readiness of potential teachers because they require candidates to provide evidence of their teaching knowledge and skills through classroom videos, lesson plans, student work, and analysis of teaching and learning. TPAs have been adopted in at least 16 states as a requirement of either teacher preparation program completion or initial licensure. California, the focus of this study, was one of the first states to adopt a TPA as a licensure requirement for beginning teachers. The state has since adopted three TPA models: the California Teaching Performing Assessment (CalTPA), the educative Teaching Performance Assessment (edTPA), and the Fresno Assessment of Student Teachers (FAST).

Unlike multiple-choice licensure exams measuring the basic skills or content knowledge of teaching candidates, TPAs are classroom-based assessments capturing direct evaluation of teaching skills. This evaluation process creates opportunities for candidates (and their preparation programs) to identify their strengths and weaknesses. TPAs typically occur when preservice candidates are in student teaching placements (referred to here as clinical practice) or, for those participating in in-service preparation like internships, in their own classrooms. Multiple studies have found that TPA scores predict effectiveness once candidates enter the classroom as licensed teachers, and proponents argue that TPAs serve as a valuable professional standard set to ensure a teaching candidate is ready to enter the classroom.

On the other hand, critics have questioned whether a TPA requirement, along with other tests, serves as an unnecessary gatekeeper to the profession and whether the fees and time investment required by a TPA can be a cumbersome barrier for potential teachers, particularly teaching candidates of color and candidates with fewer financial resources. While TPA passing rates among California teaching candidates were quite high prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, variability in performance on TPAs has increased in California as the pandemic has rocked every aspect of the education system, including the training of teachers.

Focusing on the 2021–22 and 2022–23 academic years, this study explored whether certain preparation experiences predicted TPA success. Understanding these relationships can inform programmatic and policy decisions about how to support teaching candidates in entering the workforce with strong preparation and minimal barriers. Using data provided by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, this analysis focused on 18,455 California teaching candidates who took either the CalTPA or edTPA—the two widely available TPAs used across California teacher preparation programs—between September 1, 2021, and August 31, 2023.

Key Findings

  • Passing rates varied considerably across programs. Preparation programs differ in how they structure clinical practice and support candidates through a TPA. Across the 263 preparation programs included in this analysis, nearly two thirds (63% of those programs) had more than 90% of their tested candidates pass a TPA and 23% had all of their candidates pass a TPA. In contrast, 35 programs (13%) had passing rates under 80%, including 14 programs with pass rates below 67%. Data available for a subset of completers suggest that racial disparities in pass rates appear to vary with overall program performance. While there were disparities in pass rates by candidate race and ethnicity among the low-performing programs, among programs with passing rates above 90%, there were no statistically significant differences in passing rates by race and ethnicity.
  • Passing rates also varied by credential field. Single subject (i.e., secondary) and educational specialist (i.e., special education) programs had higher passing rates, on average, than multiple subject (i.e., elementary) programs. Notably, elementary candidates must document their teaching skills across two subjects (literacy and math), and each assessment has added elements for these candidates. This added complexity, along with pandemic-era challenges with clinical practice in elementary programs, could partially explain these differences.
  • Preservice candidates were more likely than intern candidates to be successful on a TPA. As of 2021–22, three quarters of California’s preparation program completers were from “traditional” preservice programs in which preparation and clinical practice (i.e., student teaching or residency) occurs before teaching candidates become a teacher of record. Over the past 2 years, 77% of the preservice candidates who took the CalTPA or edTPA passed on their first try, and 92% of these candidates passed across all of their TPA attempts. Among candidates in internship programs who served as teachers of record while completing preparation, 67% passed a TPA on their first try and 88% passed across all attempts. Candidates known to be in residency programs had higher TPA pass rates than those in other pathways.
  • Two thirds of preparation completers reported being well supported by their program to take a TPA, and program-level ratings of support were related to the likelihood of passing. Of 14,709 elementary and secondary program completers who responded to program completer surveys administered by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 66% reported that their programs prepared them well or very well for a TPA, 23% felt adequately prepared, and 11% reported being not at all or poorly prepared. These survey responses were averaged to create program-level ratings on TPA support. The odds of passing a TPA across all attempts were 1.7 times higher for candidates from programs with the highest rating on TPA support compared to candidates from the lowest-rated programs.
  • Elementary and special education candidates from programs where completers reported more opportunities to learn about teaching literacy and math were more likely to be successful on a TPA. The program completer survey asks completers from elementary and special education preparation programs about their opportunities to learn how to teach specific aspects of literacy and math (e.g., learn ways to teach decoding skills, adapt math lessons for students with diverse needs). Program-level ratings on preparation in literacy and math—created from these survey responses—were associated with higher passing rates and higher TPA scores. For example, the odds of passing across all attempts were nearly 2 times higher for candidates from the highest-rated programs on preparation in literacy compared to candidates from the lowest-rated programs.
  • Preservice candidates from programs in which completers report sufficient clinical support were more likely to be successful on a TPA. The program completer survey asked completers to report on the quantity of clinical support offered by program faculty (i.e., communication, observations, and feedback about their teaching). For preservice candidates, program-level ratings capturing the percent of completers who received clinical feedback more than 5 times were predictive of TPA pass rates across all credential areas. Based on these program-level ratings, the odds of passing a TPA across all attempts were more than 2 times higher for candidates from the programs in which almost all completers reported sufficient clinical feedback, compared to candidates from the programs in which a lower percentage of completers reported such support. Program-level ratings on clinical support were not predictive of internship candidates’ success on the TPA.

These differences in TPA success across programs and preparation experiences underscore the importance of ensuring that candidates are getting sufficient support to practice their teaching and then document those skills on a TPA. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is particularly well positioned to provide additional support for programs with the lowest TPA passing rates through the accreditation process, especially to ensure that these programs are upholding the program standard related to TPA implementation. TPA data, along with the program completer survey data analyzed here, can also help support continuous improvement among programs. Indeed, many California programs already use these data to target support for individual candidates and make programmatic decisions and adjustments. However, some programs may need better support or systems to be able to learn from their TPA results. Creating more resources and opportunities for programmatic learning and improvement around teaching performance assessments has the potential to strengthen preparation statewide and increase the readiness of the state’s teaching candidates as they enter the classroom.

How Preparation Predicts Teaching Performance Assessment Results in California by Susan Kemper Patrick is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

This research was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Core operating support for LPI is provided by the Heising-Simons Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Sandler Foundation, and MacKenzie Scott. We are grateful to them for their generous support. The ideas voiced here are those of the author and not those of our funders.